January 17, 1996 in Nation/World

Lawmaker Wants To Tighten Divorce Law But Gaining Consent Of Both Parties Would Be Unlikely In Cases Of Abuse, Critics Say

Betsy Z. Russell Winda Benedetti Cont Staff writer
 

Tom Dorr wants to make it harder for Idahoans to get divorced.

State Rep. Dorr, R-Post Falls, has introduced legislation to require the consent of both husband and wife before a divorce could be granted on grounds of “irreconcilable differences.”

Dorr, a Christian conservative who held a news conference with the Idaho Family Forum on Tuesday to promote his bill, said, “It’s just too easy to get a divorce.

“What I hope it will do is promote reconciliation,” he said.

But advocates for victims of domestic violence are horrified by the legislation.

“That would really work well where we have one terribly abusive spouse who enjoyed abusing the other and would not consent, wouldn’t it?” asked Janet Jenkins, a Sandpoint attorney and former lawmaker who serves on the Attorney General’s Council on Domestic Violence.

“I think it’s almost laughable that it would even be proposed in this day and age,” Jenkins said. “I can’t imagine the Legislature will take it seriously.”

Dorr said he’s been promised a committee hearing on his bill.

“There are many cases where the husband wants to trade the ‘40’ in for two ‘20s’ and a Corvette and charges irreconcilable differences, and the wife doesn’t agree,” Dorr said.

But a packet of background information which he distributed to every member of the House includes a graph showing that most divorces are initiated by women.

Dorr’s packet, much of it prepared by Focus on the Family, included an article titled “God hates divorce, so why don’t we? And why the silence from our leaders?”

In its cover letter, Dorr wrote to his fellow lawmakers, “It is clear that over 25 years of a very permissive divorce policy has led to incredible long-term pain for all members of the families involved.”

Rep. Jeff Alltus, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he supports Dorr’s bill. “To me, marriage is a contract. When we allow one party to say ‘Nah,’ that’s just wrong.”

Rep. James “Doc” Lucas, R-Moscow, criticized the bill. “It seemed to me that a person could beat up their wife every day, and without mutual agreement that would continue.

“I realize there are a lot of problems with divorce. But I don’t think forcing couples to live together in certain circumstances is worth it.”

Idaho adopted the “irreconcilable differences” law in 1971. It allows either party to ask for a divorce. But Idaho also allows for a reconciliation process, which either party may request during the proceedings.

The other grounds for divorce in Idaho are: Adultery, extreme cruelty, willful desertion, willful neglect, habitual intemperance, conviction of a felony, or either husband or wife is permanently insane.

Jenkins said those grounds must be proven in court, and that’s difficult. The vast majority of divorces in Idaho now cite irreconcilable differences.

When divorcing parents cite grounds such as adultery or extreme cruelty, the proceedings become “almost tribal warfare,” Jenkins said. That hurts the children.

“With all due respect to Rep. Dorr, he’s not taking the right approach,” Jenkins said.

Sue Flammia, a Coeur d’Alene attorney and member of the North Idaho Coalition on Domestic Violence, said the irreconcilable divorce was created to allow a more peaceful way to end a divorce.

Taking away that option would make “a more complicated procedure without accomplishing anything,” she said.

Holladay Sanderson, director of the Coeur d’Alene Women’s Center, said the change would be especially hard on the victims of domestic violence.

“Batterers are not going to give a woman a divorce,” she said. “They need to continue to exert power and control over their victims.

Batterers also may try to use “mutual consent” as a bargaining tool. For example, a batterer might agree to a divorce in exchange for child custody, Sanderson said.

Sanderson also said it may be dangerous for abuse victims who escaped by moving away.

“It’s like ‘Dear darling, you’ve beaten me, by the way, here I am in Idaho and I want to divorce you now,”’ Sanderson said.

If a batterer doesn’t agree to the irreconcilable divorce, his victim then would have to get a divorce by proving extreme cruelty.

That might be difficult for women who were too afraid to report the abuse to police or fill out protection orders and therefore have no proof, Sanderson said.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: IDAHO DIVORCES Divorces sought in Kootenai County: 1991…………828 1992…………918 1993…………965 1994……….1,041 1995…………974

Divorces sought in Idaho: 1994………11,897 1995………12,498

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer Staff writer Winda Benedetti contributed to this report.

This sidebar appeared with the story: IDAHO DIVORCES Divorces sought in Kootenai County: 1991…………828 1992…………918 1993…………965 1994……….1,041 1995…………974

Divorces sought in Idaho: 1994………11,897 1995………12,498

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer Staff writer Winda Benedetti contributed to this report.


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